The Guardian this week coated Berlin in 2,000 flyposters as part of an experiential stunt that begged passers-by to break the emergency glass they were housed in and take a complimentary copy of Guardian Weekly. It was a novel approach from the newspaper that it hoped would drive more international readers to the magazine.
In 2018, the newspaper brought the Guardian Weekly - which existed as a broadsheet - back to life as a glossy mag to be nestled among the Economist and the New Statesman on the magazine stand.
Germany has since become the largest of the EU markets for the publication, where it has seen growth of 54% since its relaunched in 2018.
“We noticed we had impressive growth in Europe, so we wanted to see if we could stimulate more awareness for the product without tonnes of cash,” explained Kate Davies, director of brand and awareness at the Guardian. “We needed to be smart with our budget, so we looked at hyper-localized markets.”
And so Berlin became the site of a major experiential stunt, a first of its kind for the Guardian, that was developed by its in-house ad agency Oliver.
Break the glass
On Monday (17 February) Berlin-dwellers came face-to-face with a line of alluring red emergency boxes asking them to break the glass in case of various emergencies, using the small hammer hanging alongside. In case of climate inaction, injustice, corruption, and corporate greed, guard yourself with knowledge.
“When we considered the fact we are living in a state of emergency, the emergency box came to mind,” explained Sam Jacobs creative director of the Guardian’s in-house creative agency. “The idea is you can smash the glass, read the magazine and arm yourself with facts. It’s a nice visual way to display the product.”
Past the one-day stunt, the campaign will continue for three weeks which will see 2,000 flyposters, a smattering of OOH videos shown on screens around the city showing the process of the glass being broken and a digital ad campaign.
“Flyposting feels right for our brand, it feels like the Guardian thing to do,” Davies said. “One of our media buying principles is ‘not glossy.’ We’re not into big expensive, media buy. We like to show we are part of a community.”
Hoping to reach “progressive, news junkies” Davies explained it’s a “brand awareness campaign. We’re hoping to see an uplift of 10% - fingers crossed its more. A 10% increase in traffic to the key Guardian Weekly pages and our subscription pages.”
She said there is also an acquisition team working on capturing some raised awareness and interest. “We’re hoping to see that translate quickly into subscriptions - it’s about increasing traffic and awareness of the product.”
The plan is to take it to its other key European cities, but Davies conceded that, due to limited funds, the pace at which it does this will be slow.
“In an ideal world we would appear in every single European city next year, but we have to be sensible about it. We’ll look at which ones make sense and cherry-pick which ones to roll it out to two or three more next year,” she said.
But aside from continental Europe, Davies said as well as making sure the magazine has awareness in Europe, it needs to “keep our UK audiences engaged because there is growth in the UK, as well.”
Other Guardian work produced in partnership with Oliver includes a London Underground outdoor campaign for the Guardian’s flagship podcast, Today in Focus.
Getting more ambitious with its marketing
The epic OOH takeover is a firm favourite tactic among a number of media outlets, bursting to shout about the value of good journalism. The Economist has also been testing out the most impactful ways advertising can give curious passers-by a taste of its magazine. And across the pond, the New York Times has been transforming shopfronts as part of an experiential campaign ‘The Truth is Local’ to highlight the paper’s reporting in each of the city's boroughs.
“There are lots of news brands trying to demonstrate that they can make sense of this moment in time, which can feel very uncertain for their readers,” Davies said on why she thinks the Guardian stands alone. “What’s different about the Guardian is we are trying to find ways of being distinctive to our readers - thinking about how to be hopeful and forward-thinking.”
Last year, in a bid to reach two million supporters by 2022, the Guardian flyposted its ‘Hope is Power’ campaign across the UK to highlight the crucial role that the newspaper plays in giving people information that enables them to challenge the status-quo.
“We take a view which is about solutions, agency and change, and the Guardian’s role in that,” explained Davies. “Sometimes those brands can be a bit doom and gloom, which shifts newspapers. Our creative approach is to be always playful, to be smart, to make you think and to challenge.”